I’m one of those people who never make New Year’s resolutions. Except when we do.
Last year, at the invitation of one of our pastors, Joy Fasick, I and about 120 other people at Slate Hill Mennonite Church resolved to read Scripture every day during 2013. Joy called it Challenge 2013, and she told us that reading from the biblical text each day would indeed be a challenge. She said we shouldn’t beat ourselves up over missing a day here and there, and she assured us that there would be many days when we definitely didn’t feel like reading the Bible. She cautioned us not to think that reading our Bibles would somehow miraculously transform us into better people or remove all our selfishness or insecurities or meanness. But she did tell us that slowly, over the course of our daily devotion, God would shape our lives, remake our affections, and renew our spirits.
Joy suggested lots of ideas that would help to give our daily reading some form and structure, including MennoMedia resources like Rejoice!, daily Bible reading plans, and electronic devotionals. She encouraged us to find our own devotional resources as well. The only parameters were that our devotionals be designed to occur daily and that they include the actual biblical text itself, not a contemporary writer’s reflections on the biblical text.
Like most other years when I’ve made New Year’s resolutions, I failed. Quite miserably. I haven’t tallied up the days I actually read Scripture—I like to think I have left behind the obsessive-compulsive faith of my adolescence—but I know that many days I didn’t get around to opening up my Bible. Like Joy suggested, however, I haven’t beaten myself up about it. Plus, failure is a relative term; I know that I read more Scripture than I would have had I not made that resolution. And Challenge 2013 affected not only my private devotional life but our family’s devotional life as well. Granted, it usually meant whipping open the Bible right before dinnertime prayer and reading whatever Psalm my eyes fell upon, wondering how many verses I could get through before some boy began to whine about how hungry he was. But again, we likely read more Scripture in 2013 than we did in 2012.
I can’t say that this year’s Scripture-reading discipline has noticeably changed me. This past year I still yelled at my kids, and still got captivated by my own ego, and still been plain-down petty more frequently than I like to admit. Then again, maybe I would have been even more angry, egoistic, and petty had I not done it. I wasn’t looking at this year’s discipline as some bargain or exchange of goods anyway, and I’m wary enough of how Scripture has been misused and privatized and extracted from that I hesitate to position it as some snazzy weight-loss program for one’s emotional life. Yet I do know that, at times, those sacred words from ancient writers slipped into my dim, distracted little brain and moved it a little closer to the Light of the World. One might be taken down a necessary notch in the morning when reading, “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong” (1 Cor. 1:27). And evenings can’t be quite as full of despair when one ends them with the lovely words of the Psalmist, “I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” (Ps. 27:13).
So while I’m sure that I’ll again fail—whatever that means—I am going to go with the same New Year’s resolution for 2014. I will try to read Scripture daily again in 2014, and for at least part of the year I’m going to use a MennoMedia resource to do it. Take Our Moments and Our Days, volume 1 and volume 2, are Anabaptist prayer books that can be used individually or in groups. I’ve seen these books around for years, and I’ve decided that 2014 is the year I’m actually going to use them. Volume 1 is designed for Ordinary Time, and volume 2 goes from Advent through Pentecost.
Here is what some readers have to say about these books:
“It helps me to pray even when I have times when I don’t want to pray.”
“I’ve been loving the prayer book. I have used it in our peace prayers group, in small group, in a group retreat, and mostly in my daily prayers as an individual. Every time I have opened the book, I have loved it.”
—Tina, Pennsylvania, USA
“I appreciate the repetition and find that some of the repeated phrases are really sticking with me and coming to me at other times of the day. The structure of the intercessions reminds me to broaden my prayers from just the nearest or most urgent.”
—Brenda, Indiana, USA
Another great MennoMedia resource for reading Scripture, this one designed for congregational use, is Dig In: Thirteen Scriptures to Help Us Know the Way. The thirteen Scriptures have special meaning to Mennonites and help readers engage with both the text and with each other.
One of the gifts of Anabaptism is that we believe that Scripture is best interpreted within the community of faith. I continue to believe that, and heartily. Yet as a result, in the past I have sometimes ceded personal spirituality to evangelical Christianity. This discipline of reading Scripture, no matter how poorly I do it, reminds me that Christ came to groups but also to individuals, one by one by one. It reminds me, almost daily, that I am more than just a body, and that life is more than the pursuit of whatever desire tries to rule that particular day.
So anyone want to join me in 2014? I promise I won’t make you check in with a count of how many days you faithfully read Scripture. I won’t be reporting back, either. Accountability is good, but I’d encourage you to find it in your local congregation, not here online.
In any event, the important thing here is not perfection but practice. The important thing is regularly placing ourselves in the company of ancient writers of faith, who tell the story of a God who hovers around the edge of our consciousness and occasionally, when we allow it, breaks the whole way through.